Northern Ireland could be set for a huge jobs boost after two areas of local coastline were identified as locations for green power projects.
The Crown Estate is inviting developers to declare interest in 800 megawatts-worth of projects in our waters for wind and wave projects.
An offshore wind area off the south east coast of County Down will be leased to a single development company to deliver up to 600MW of power generation, while the Rathlin Island and Torr Head Strategic Area, a single tidal stream area of up to 200MW capacity, will be leased to developers for delivery of multiple projects.
Development rights will be awarded in the second half of 2012 to bidders who can deliver fully operational projects by 2020.
Last month Danish energy giant DONG signed off on a £50m deal to make Belfast its hub for building wind turbines, which will create 300 jobs.
Around £25bn is due to be spent on renewable energy projects in the Irish Sea over the next 10 years, with the creation of thousands more jobs.
Global firm Siemens is also understood to be discussing localising their Irish Sea production.
Recent studies suggest a 91% increase in full-time employment within the UK wind turbine sector in the coming years and the new Belfast Metropolitan College, working alongside Larne firm B9 Energy, is one of just three colleges in the UK offering programmes tailored towards the imminent growth of wind power.
Alan Bissett, head of projects and energy at Arthur Cox Solicitors, said the news underlines the
great wind and wave power potential of Northern Ireland waters.
“Set against the backdrop of challenging renewables targets, the leasing rounds represent a major step in helping to meet those targets,” he said.
“Although the bidders in the offshore wind leasing round are perhaps likely to be multinationals, these projects will also create a significant number of jobs locally in a number of sectors including research and development, engineering and shipping.
“Coupled with the recent announcement of the DONG Energy facility at Belfast Harbour, it seems clear that Northern Ireland is well positioned to become one of the UK’s leading green energy regions with a wealth of marine energy resources at hand.”
Nicola Murphy, business development manager with Action Renewables, agrees that the potential for the supply chain is huge.
“Local companies involved in creating, manufacturing and maintaining offshore renewable technologies will also be able to tender for the work that will become available as a result of this initiative,” she said.
“This is a great opportunity to enhance the growth of the green economy in Northern Ireland and the wider European market.”
Rob Hastings, the Crown Estate’s marine director, said that the energy infrastructure projects will not only reap significant economic benefits for Northern Ireland, but will also further diversify the energy supply away from industrial sources.
Welcoming the news, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster added that the leasing process has followed on from discussions with the renewable energy sector to identify the best way to release offshore resources to optimise market interest.
Claims that investment in wind farms and other low-carbon technologies will add dramatically to the cost of household energy bills over the next decade are untrue, the Government's climate advisers said today.
The independent Committee on Climate Change, which advises the Government on preparing for the impact of climate change, said that wholesale gas prices were “by far” the largest contributor to rises in average UK household fuel bills between 2004 and 2010.